Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.Matthew 10.34-42
This passage might seem troubling to many of us. Didn’t our Lord say much earlier that “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (5.9)? Didn’t the Apostle Paul write, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6.1) So how can our Lord now say that he has “not come to bring peace, but a sword” and he has come to turn family members against each other?
When I first read this passage as a young Christian convert, it troubled me because my parents and my brother weren’t Christian. Would this mean disharmony in my household if I were to obey Christ? This is a hard saying for Asians who value filial piety and harmony in the family. Of course, it wasn’t any easier for the first century Jews, since they too valued honour shown to parents and shalom within the home. Christ’s words would’ve been scandalous to them too.
Our Lord does use hyperbole to draw attention to his words (Lk. 14.26 records even stronger language), and his jarring juxtaposition of a martial implement—”sword”—and the litany of family relations would certainly have made his hearers rather uneasy. The point he’s trying to make here is that when you’re confronted with the proclamation of the kingdom of God, the good news of Christ, you’re presented with a choice that has great existential implications. If you choose to put your allegiance with the Lord while your family members don’t, then conflicts are bound to happen. The family may even persecute the Christian, not an uncommon experience for many Christian converts in Asia.
However, no matter how much one loves one’s family, one’s love for Christ must be stronger. The commitment to Christ must relativise every other love and set them in the right order. Our Lord doesn’t mean that we have to stop loving our family but that our love for him determines how we must love our family. We must make peace when we can, honour our parents when we can, and be good witnesses of Christ to our family. However, if your parents tell you to renounce Christ then you mustn’t listen to them, even if you have to be kicked out of the house—that is your cross to carry and taking that up makes you worthy of Christ. Even if we lose everything, we gain Christ, and he’s the most precious gift we can ever gain.
I had a hard time with my mother after I came out to my parents about my Christian faith. As a conservative Chinese, she was angry with me turning my back on our family traditions (Taoism). It took years before she came to terms with it and I don’t blame her for it. I wasn’t always a good witness to Christ in my home and my Christian faith was often attacked because of my lack in peacemaking and my failure to honour my parents. Nevertheless, God in his grace has given me the strength to bear this cross and has allowed us to reconcile with time. Many others would’ve had it worse than me. Yet, I’m sure all of us who’d experienced such conflicts in our families for the sake of Christ has also found our true peace in him. May God’s grace strengthen us to love him above all else.